Adrian Gonzalez just can’t pour his colada the same way anymore.
When you bend the Styrofoam cup, it forms a perfect spigot, he explains. And the cup keeps his coffee at just the right temperature. You just can’t get that form and accuracy with a paper cup. And a ceramic mug? Coffee splatters everywhere.
But he’s going to have to get used to it, because at his restaurant, David’s Café on Miami Beach, Styrofoam is officially illegal. It’s illegal all over Miami Beach, actually.
That means every business in the city had to switch out all of their Styrofoam for more environmentally safe packaging. And visitors can’t bring the plastic stuff onto into the city unless they want to get slapped with a fine.
In 2014, Miami Beach became the first city in all of Florida to enact a ban on Styrofoam on city property, including on beaches, and sidewalk cafes. The ban was expanded citywide to all businesses and went into effect on Sept. 16.
On the first day of the ban, a code compliance officer visited David’s Café to make sure their cafecito cups and to-go containers were up to code. Gonzalez hadn’t switched his products over to paper just yet.
He was hit with a $50 fine. For a second offense, the fine climbs to $100, and a third offense could be up to $500. That day Gonzalez ran out and bought paper cups in bulk from a local store, but he’s since learned that it’s not a cheap alternative.
“A Styrofoam cup is one to two pennies per cup, versus the most reasonable economic cup [a paper cup] is about 17 to 20 cents a cup. That’s a significant increase,” Gonzalez said.
And at David’s raising coffee prices to absorb the costs is out of the question.
“A customer complained yesterday that our coffee prices were too expensive but that same customer would spend $5 at Starbucks … sadly to say, it’s a sigma of a Cuban restaurant,” Gonzalez said. “It’s almost like we’re not allowed to increase our prices because people get in an uproar.”
David Doebler, the founder of VolunteerCleanup.org, says local businesses have a responsibility to take care of the communities they’re profiting from. Styrofoam is particularly difficult to clean up in coastal communities because it’s actually made of little plastic balls held together with glue. When that glue breaks down in the water, those little balls separate and end up floating for hundreds of years, he explained.
“The city spends a tremendous amount on waterway cleanup. The city spends about $800,000 in just stormwater maintenance. [Styrofoam] is part of the problem,” Doebler said.
Gonzalez agrees that protecting the environment is important, but not at the cost of his business. He says it would be significantly cheaper if he could buy paper cups in bulk, like say 50,000 cups in one order. But he doesn’t have the storage space for all of that packaging. Right now, he’s talking to other small restaurants in the area to see if they can all go in on a big order to make it cheaper.
But he thinks the city should have done that for them.
“Why not get a big vendor to say we’ll be the official manufacturer of Miami Beach?,” he suggests. He also thinks the city should offer a small incentive for small businesses or tax credits.
Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco says small businesses had more than enough time to plan for the switch.
“We enacted this ban a year ago, and businesses had a year to figure it out either individually or collectively,” he said. “This type of legislation is for the betterment of the entire community and environment and many businesses have voluntarily removed it.”
The city has no plans to offset the costs of switching to paper.
“Styrofoam is terrible for the environment for multiple reasons. Just because people are used to something or it’s convenient or cheap doesn’t mean it’s right for Miami Beach,” Grieco said.
Velazquez admits that paper cups are substantially more expensive, jumping from four cents a cup for a 20-ounce cup to 13 cents a cup. And not all cups can be adapted.
“It took a little while to find the company to supply us with paper cups, and to this day they can’t make us a 44 ounce cup, which is the largest cup,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing, because that is a mammoth of a drink.”
Velazquez has helped other Smoothie King locations make the switch from Styrofoam to paper, including a few in Maryland and one in Coconut Grove.
“I think the goal eventually is to make all of our locations switch to a more environmentally friendly cup,” he said.
But at the same time he thinks that prices might soon start to climb to accommodate the switch.